A young man named Paul, who is apparently in his twenties, travels from his Greenwich Village apartment to his parents’ Brooklyn home for Sunday dinner. As he walks toward a subway station, he glimpses the colorful characters who populate his path and draws vivid correlations among them, the local landmarks, and the associations they inspire in him. Among an almost circuslike array of people, the reader sees “the Italians . . . all outside on stoops and chairs or standing along the curb in their Sunday clothes . . . mothers with their hair pulled back and their hands folded in their laps . . . like Neanderthal madonnas . . . [and] girls [with] long pegged skirts which made their feet move incredibly fast.”
The subway itself is an exotic realm. Paul states, “I took a long breath like a deep-sea diver and went reluctantly underground.” In the subway train the passengers ignore one another, yet exhibit an uncanny attunement to one another’s movements as they silently exchange seats in an undulating, almost somnambulistic underground ballet.
The scene surrounding Paul’s arrival in Brooklyn proves that he has transported himself to still another world. The borough’s empty streets remind him that in stable, middle-class Brooklyn, everyone conforms by eating dinner at the same hour. Paul walks to his parents’ house where they greet him as a prodigal son. His mother and father strive to please him by providing him every comfort and by filling him with the food they hope will sustain him. In their eagerness to provide a perfect Sunday evening, Paul’s parents revise and repress their own beliefs and desires, a fact that Paul understands, and a truth that ironically increases, rather than decreases, his anxieties.
Following dinner and conversation, Paul’s father accompanies him back to the subway station. As the father starts to descend the subway steps, Paul stops him, telling him to remain where he is so as not to overexert himself or to breathe in the station’s polluted fumes. Paul’s father protests, but finally acquiesces, and as the disaffected son disappears down the underground stairs, he feels his father’s sadness.